Roadtrip: Weekend in Brugge

The bear is a symbol of Brugge, according to our guide, because the bear was the city's first inhabitant.

I have had it in my head for a while now that I wanted to visit Brugge, a small city in Belgium noted for its canals and fairytale charm. I wanted to go a few months ago (somehow I had stumbled upon some farm B&B in the area), but fate interfered, and I didn’t get to go until this weekend.

The kids are off school this week for the Toussaint half-term break. Let me pause briefly to tell you about a horrible seasonal faute pas I almost made.

About a week ago, I was in the grocery store checkout line, when I noticed the woman behind me had a really nice planter. It was filled with heather and cyclamen and I don’t remember what all. Another shopper, or maybe it was a store employee, commented on it, and I thought, “I want one of those, too!”

So the next time I was in the store, I went looking for that planter.

They had LOTS of planters, but they were a bit pricey for my taste. After all, I was just going to set it on the front steps for a few weeks. But they were nice.

Oh, and they had mums. Big, giant mums in lovely fall colors. And so cheap! For something like 3 EUR, you could get mums so big you could barely get your arms around them.

But I wanted more than one–for the front steps, you know–so that would mean buying two, at least, or possibly four, and then they would fill my cart, leaving no room for the groceries I was there to buy.

So I skipped it.

Which, it turns out, was a good thing.

Because somehow I realized–perhaps it was seeing all the cars parked at by the big cemetery near us–that these planters and mums were meant for putting on graves and ONLY for putting on graves during Toussaint.

So I didn’t buy any.

And when I asked the woman who runs the B&B where we stayed this weekend, she shuddered visibly and confirmed. Yes. Those are associated with funerals, and only for taking to the cemetery, and would have been just WRONG! on my front steps.

Crisis averted.

But back to the weekend.

As I mentioned, I somehow stumbled on this farm B&B, and decided since it was three hours from Luxembourg that it was a good place to stop on the way to Brugge. Brugge is nearly four hours, and I thought that was too far to go, especially since I wanted to leave Friday after work.

As it was, we didn’t get there until 10:00 p.m.

Now, the best thing about this B&B was the owner. The guest rooms themselves . . . meh. But the very charming and chatty Marijke told us great stories about the property during WWII (before she and her husband owned it).

The other cool thing was that the farm sits on both sides of the BE/NL border. We were less than 200 meters from the Netherlands, Marijke said.

“No way,” we said.

“Yes,” she insisted. “It is right there.” And she gestured out the window.

I took this picture standing on the road in front of the farm. Those trees are definitely Dutch.

I had heard that Belgium is flat, but down in our neck of the woods, Belgium is gently rolling. I had somehow completely forgotten about the northern section being next to the Netherlands, which I know is flat.

At first I thought the flat landscape was really boring. But then it called to mind all those Flemish landscapes from Art History class. Take a look here, if you don’t have a mental image of Dutch landscape paintings.

I also expected that the trees would be bent by the wind, but I guess we weren’t close enough to the coast for that. It wasn’t particularly windy this weekend at all. In fact, the conditions were pretty ideal for bicycling. They were actually a bit of a menace, all those people on bikes. Or maybe I was just a bit jealous I didn’t have one. Next time.

So Saturday we ventured into Brugge, which is everything you expect in a European jewel city: pretty, charming, and full of tourists.

I sure hate to share in my old age. We sprang for a horse-drawn carriage tour, and I asked the guide when is the least crowded time in Brugge, and she said, “July and August,” but I’m not sure I believe her. I know she understood me because she said, “There’s hardly anyone here then.” But maybe . . .

Since we missed out in Brussels, this time we managed to hit the Chocolate Museum.

Molds for chocolate at the Chocolate Museum.

As we arrived, an emergency medical team was carrying out an older woman. We wondered if the excitement of all that chocolate was too much for her. But once we got in the museum, we decided it was probably the stairs. There wasn’t that much chocolate being handed out.

Although the forecast called for rain, and it did drizzle a bit when we first arrived, we were very lucky with the weather.

The canals are very beautiful in Brugge.

The swans are another symbol of the city.

I was not feeling driven to do anything in particular, although the one thing I did want to do was to walk by the Beguinage and see the swans. Benedictine nuns live there, so there are signs all around urging you to be quiet and reverent and to refrain from taking photos.

So I was a little taken aback when an older woman shoved me out of the way as we were all walking back out through the gate.

Later, we saw the same woman leaning against a brick wall, retching and being comforted by her companion.

“Again with the chocolate over-dosing?” we wondered. I wasn’t sure whether she shoved me because she knew she was going to be ill, or if she got what she deserved for shoving at the Beguinage.

Since it features a Michelangelo statue of the Madonna and Child, we went into the Church of Our Lady.

Always buy the postcards. Those photos are so much better.

We debated taking a boat tour on the canals, but the boats seemed stuffed-to-overflowing with people, and we were already a little claustrophobic what with all the tourists and bicycles on the narrow streets. So we opted for a horse-carriage ride instead, and that was lovely.

Baboo has a word with Tinka, our horse.

There are several public statues for the horse carriages, including this fountain which the drivers use to water their horses.

Coming out of Brugge, we had that pregnant pause when the GPS has not yet found any satellites, but you feel the need to continue driving, largely because you aren’t sure where you can pull over. The result was that Sean, The Voice of Our GPS, routed us back a different way. One of his favorite tricks, it seems, is to send us down goat paths because they are more direct as the crow flies. So we were tooling along down narrower and narrower roads. The road surface also seemed to change, and The Spouse wondered aloud, “Do you think we are in the Netherlands?”

The speed limit displayed on the GPS was 60 kph–different than any we had seen in Belgium

We started looking at the plates on the parked cars, and, sure enough, they all said NL.

Suddenly we were only 500 meters from the B&B. Still on a very small lane like the one in front of the farm. But the speed limit was still 60 kph. Until RIGHT as we rounded the corner, it seemed.

“Holy crap,” said The Spouse, or something like that. “She wasn’t kidding. The border is really RIGHT there.”

Back at the B&B, we went to dinner at De Roste Muis (The Red Mouse), a local pub with a colorful history and very delicious regional dishes. Although their specialty is eels, we opted for shrimp (another local specialty) and pork. I just wasn’t in an eel place.

Unfortunately, even with Google Translator, I was unable to figure out the story of the red mouse. And Marijke would only say that it was “not a story for children . . .” and left it at that. If you speak Dutch, perhaps you can fill me in on what I’m missing here.

Frankly, Google Translator would have been extremely useful at the restaurant because the menu was completely in Flemish.

Yes, we saw some words there we recognized from German (Kaaskroketten = cheese croquettes, for example, Dagsoep = soup of the day, and Warme appeltaart met ijs is clearly warm apple pie with ice cream . . . but what the devil is Gerookte zalm?)

And, yes, the waiter (and all the staff there) spoke excellent English and was happy to assist.

But it was the first time since I arrived in Moscow that I was really stumped by a menu. And The Spouse could not remember the last time he was rendered so linguistically challenged. Too bad we left his Blackberry in the car.

We broke up the drive back to Luxembourg yesterday with a stop at Le Château de Lavaux Sainte-Anne because

  • I thought it looked interesting
  • It was a good stopping point during the drive (only about 100 km from Luxembourg), and
  • I was fairly sure there would be a restaurant there.

The chateau was very interesting (and not too big), with an emphasis on the area wildlife (both inside the chateau and outside). And there was what appeared to be a very nice restaurant within the grounds.

Doesn't that look cool?

But, alas, in European fashion, without a reservation, they had no room. Luckily another charming place across the street (Les Caprices de Sainte-Anne) was able to squeeze us in. There we had a wonderful, if lengthy (three hours!) lunch before heading back home to Luxembourg.

The chateau would be a nice place to take guests as it is not too far and not too much to take in.

Further, I simply MUST go back–even if I go alone–because right down the street was the Musée du Cyclisme. Sadly, the only link I could find for it was in Flemish (and in southern Belgium, too . . . go figure), but I saw this:

wielerkampioenen: Eddy MERCKX, Fausto COPPI, Jacques ANQUETIL, Louison BOBET, Gino BARTALI, Bernard HINAULT, Ferdi KUBLER, Hugo KOBLET, Alfredo BINDA, Léon SCIEUR, Henri PELISSIER, Antonin MAGNE, Marco PANTANI enz…

and that’s all very exciting to me.

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  1. Anita says:

    Thanks for the explanation about the planters and the mums. Will was encouraging me to get a few mums for the balcony… I knew my hesitation was smart. Glad I didn’t disturb all the folks walking in the park with a cemetery display.

    We were in Brugge in May and it is a quaint and lovely town – just one that is full of tourists. The canal boat ride was fun, even if you were packed with others. The carriage ride sounds even more pleasant.

    I hope you all enjoy the break this week.

  2. Peter says:

    a small translation on the legend of the red mouse:

    “Did you know that in the 19th century the Red Mouse was a secret bar? Farm workers came to the café after the prayer of 11.00 for their drink. This drink, served with their sandwiches, was served by red-haired girl Virgini van Durme. According to the legend one of the farm workers saw here .

    So indeed, not a story for childern!

    Peter (Dutch expact in LUX)

    • Peter says:

      argh, last line did not come throug: “According to the legend one of the farm workers saw her … (not a suitable word for a public blog).”

      • The Expatresse says:

        Ahhhh! So she was the Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan of her time!

        I thought it was something along those lines, but I wasn’t sure.

        Thank you so much! ;-)

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